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This makes mockery of gripe over Tory cuts

By Noel McAdam

Accountancy can be a complex business.

Much more so when it comes to big-budget Government departments.

Even so, most ordinary people will scratch their heads over the allegations that Stormont Ministers have handed back a cool half a Billion pounds to London over the last four years.

The never-ending annual monitoring rounds were designed to prevent this from happening.

Every few months the Departments are expected to declare how much ‘spare dosh’ they have rattling around, and the Executive then decides how it can be re-distributed.

It is a tricky and intricate process. Many of the Departments which are declaring so-called ‘underspends’ are at one and the same time also making bids for a slice of the money pot.

And some will ask what sense it makes for our Executive to have the begging bowl out over welfare reform - or access to loans to finance the public sector exit scheme - if we are handing back money it failed to spend in the first place ?

Under the current arrangements for the devolved administrations not just here but in Edinburgh and Cardiff, Ministers are allowed to carry forward just 0.6 % of their day-to-day or resource side spend and up to 1.5 % on the capital side.

The answers provided to former UUP leader Lord Empey also state the Government has yet to decide how much of this year’s ‘underspend’ can be allowed to be carried forward.

Officials in Finance Minister Arlene Fosters’ department explained the statistics involved are ‘Provisional Outturn’ figures - a surefire accountancy term if ever you heard one.

Yet if the current leader Mike Nesbitt has made a mistake in this regard, he should be big enough to hold his hands up and say so.

There are many reasons why Departments can end up with money it cannot immediately get rid off. Take the Department of Environment, for example, which has a current net overall underspend of £1·03m - made up of additional income received in the final months of the financial year, particularly planning fees and some additional carrier bag levy income, as well as delays in the capital investment programme at the Exploris centre.

In additional there were ‘end of year’ flexibility arrangements, applying in particular to the Department of Justice and the left-in-limbo Desertcreat project.

DFP officials also refer to “the ring-fenced non cash budget which could not be used for any other purpose.”

. The disclosures feed into a growing public perception that our political parties are not up to the job of governance.

And many members of the public do not single out particular parties - who can be left to their own blame game - but just respond ‘a plague on all your houses’

Belfast Telegraph


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